In 2008, then-senator Barack Obama announced in his second autobiography, The Audacity of Hope, “I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views.” Obama campaigned on supposed practicality and ad hoc politicking. This left his most cynical detractors shadowboxing at the leftist positions they knew that he actually held, even as the media and his supporters tut-tutted such catastrophic thinking.
Then, it turned out, Obama’s detractors were right.
What, they ask, could go so wrong in a Trump presidency? Here, then, is an attempt to realistically assess what a Trump presidency would look like. My biases are clear up front: I don’t trust Trump. I don’t trust his promises, because he has shown no willingness to hold to them. I don’t trust his ideology, because he proclaims that his guiding star is his own self-assurance. I trust Trump to be Trump: a man of convenience, a thinker of no great depth, a reactionary with no constitutional understanding and a willingness to maximize executive power.
Here we go.
A President Trump would indeed sign an executive order to build a wall with Mexico. After being informed by his advisers that such a wall would actually look more like sections of barrier punctuated by high-tech touch fences, Trump would also quietly concede — he would build the sections that resemble a wall, mostly for symbolic purposes. Trump would probably staff up Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but we’d see no mass deportations. He would revoke President Obama’s DACA (deferred action for childhood arrivals) program, but he would not replace it with a harsh enforcement operation — the costs and political blowback would be too steep, which is why Trump is already talking about both touchback amnesty and negotiation with Democrats. Despite promises to do so, Trump would not dramatically curtail the number of high-tech visas handed out; he’s made clear that he believes American wages are already too high, and he disowned this part of the Jeff Sessions plan in one of the GOP-primary debates. Trump would, however, implement new restrictions on immigration from Muslim countries.
A President Trump would also move quickly on global trade. He would utilize executive orders to effectively scrap trade deals, nullifying decades of trade negotiations. In retaliation, major trade partners including China, Mexico, and Canada would raise their own trade barriers. China would begin selling American debt on the open market, understanding that American economic growth decreases the possibility of bond repayment. In response, Trump would buy up bonds on the global market, inflating the dollar. Recession would be the inevitable result. In response, Trump would probably fall back on taxing the rich, given his stated preference for lashing out at hedge-fund managers and high-income earners. As a consequence, investment would stall.
In the wake of Trump’s continuous policy and media onslaught, the principles of limited government would disappear.
Faced with the dilemma of filling Justice Antonin Scalia’s empty seat on the Supreme Court, Trump would look to his advisers for a list of possible nominees — as he has done recently in releasing his first iteration of such a list. But if Democrats in the Senate, either from a position of majority or a position of minority, threatened to shut down his nomination or filibuster it (as they surely would), Trump would instead submit the name of a well-liked federal judge of “high intellect” but no serious conservative record. Republicans in the Senate, preferring compromise to infighting with their own president, would sign on to Trump’s pick; his pick, a stealth leftist such as David Souter, would be confirmed by a wide majority. A religious-freedom case would rise to the Supreme Court level, and the Court would find that religious organizations have no right to “discriminate” against same-sex couples; Trump would vow to enforce the law, just as he has said that Obergefell is settled law.
A bill from the Republican House to repeal Obamacare would undoubtedly stall in the Senate. Trump would refuse to use the power of the podium to push it forward. He would probably also refuse to slash funding for Medicaid expansion at the state level, explaining that he believes it is the government’s role to ensure that Americans do not die in the street.
In response to the continued foreign-policy threat of ISIS, Trump would arrange a meeting with Vladimir Putin, brokered by Putin-friendly adviser Paul Manafort. Putin would pledge to work with Bashar Assad to fight ISIS; he has already pledged the same to President Obama. Instead, however, Assad will continue to devastate all his domestic opponents, leaving ISIS untouched.
It’s unlikely he’d fulfill his promise to become presidential.
In other parts of the world, a President Trump would pull back American involvement dramatically. He could begin withdrawing troops from South Korea and Germany and Japan, insisting that they pay more of their own defense budget. He would merely shrug at Chinese aggression in the South China Sea — it’s far away and has no direct impact on American lives. He would almost certainly continue to cede ground to Vladimir Putin not only in Ukraine but also in Moldova and Georgia. Trump would pressure NATO allies to pick up more of the defense burden (he has already vowed to do this). NATO allies would decline to do so. Putin would then begin threatening Estonia and Latvia in an attempt to break NATO once and for all; Trump would do almost nothing in response.
Bedeviled by negative press coverage, Trump would certainly ice out his media opponents and grant special access to his favorite outlets. He would also target his political opponents via his Chris Christie–led Department of Justice and the Internal Revenue Service, as he has promised to do.
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And then there’s Trump’s rhetoric. It’s unlikely he’d fulfill his promise to become presidential. Instead, he’d no doubt indulge in conspiracy theories and insult battles with leaders both foreign and domestic. He would openly threaten to ruin anyone who opposed him. He would empower elements of his base to threaten his opposition — a sort of counter–Black Lives Matter movement from the alt-right.
The ink-blot presidency would roll forth, policy after policy. Trump’s defenders would find enough here to like that they’d proclaim him a successful president; his opponents would point to his foreign-policy and economic failures as evidence that he lied to his own supporters throughout his campaign.One thing is certain: There’s nothing here that even hints at constitutional conservatism. Trump’s face, like Obama’s before him, would become the face of his party. In the wake of Trump’s continuous policy and media onslaught, the principles of limited government would disappear. Conservatives would fall in line behind Trump, seeking to uphold his agenda because he was “their man.” Those who failed to fall in line would be labeled enemies of the country in Republican circles. A New American Consensus would be formed, merging the ad hoc populist Right and the Democratic Left. The era of conservatism would end.
Perhaps I’m too skeptical of Trump. Perhaps he’d do only some of what I suggest. Or, more likely, this is on the milder end of what Trump would do as president. In either case, conservatives would be wise to consider the consequences of throwing their support behind an authoritarian with no allegiance to any of the ideals conservatives value.
— Ben Shapiro is the author of Primetime Propaganda: The True Hollywood Story of How the Left Took Over Your TV.